Since the breakout success of her previous two albums, 2014's 'Bury Me At Makeout Creek' and 2016's 'Puberty 2', Mitski hasn't been afraid to discuss her recently acquired fame. And while the narrative of the DIY musician transforming into an indie and music press star isn't a new one, it is one that still brings a variety of obstacles in its wake. From high expectations, strenuous touring schedules and emotional disconnect, it's easy to see how this change can derail many musicians. But with 'Be The Cowboy', Mitski faces these snags head on.
Instrumentally, this is the richest and most ambitious Mitski has ever sounded. The gargantuan opener 'Geyser' is a towering monolith of bursting percussion and fuzz-laden guitars, while 'Nobody' uses elements of disco for a lyrically relatable and honest floor filler. The synth-led 'Why Didn't You Stop Me?' is a sonic delight, as is ‘Remember My Name’, with its rattling bass and splendid guitar passages.
Among this rush of mellifluous instrumentation, there are also plenty of moments of reflection on 'Be The Cowboy'. The nostalgic 'Old Friend' has you pining for that long-lost friendship/relationship you never knew you had, over gleaming and radiant synthesisers. Then there is the self-deprecating and rather Father John Misty-esque ‘Me and My Husband’, whose bleak yet witty lyrics range from stealing oxygen from the world to the realisation of one's insignificant existence (it’s not as sombre as it sounds). ‘Come Into The Water’ is a short piece of endearing Americana, while the stark and stirring 'Lonesome Love' has one of the record's best lines in “Nobody fucks me like me”.
Closing the album is the beautiful ‘Two Slow Dancers’, which feels like it belongs in Twin Peaks' Bang Bang Bar. Its cocktail of contemplative lyrics, touching vocals and emotional instrumentation of a solitary piano and the occasional scintillating synth is hair-raising and makes it one of Mitski's best tracks to date.
However, there are a couple of tracks that do fall along the wayside. Despite its lively intro, 'Blue Light' feels like a half-baked idea that just ends up being a sea of dreamy synths without much substance. As for 'A Horse Named Cold Air', its haunting presence just simply doesn't add much to the album. Thankfully these missteps don't impact the record as a whole, since their short runtimes mean they never truly overstay their welcome.
Rather than crumbling under the pressure of acclaim, Mitski embraces it and is all better for it. These trials and tribulations that birthed ‘Be The Cowboy’ have not only developed Mitski as a musician, but also act as another sign that she has the potential to be considered one of the best singer-songwriters of our generation.
Words: Liam Egan
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